Gulaab Gang: Why Madhuri beating a man won't damage Sampat Pal's reputation

Deepanjana Pal

Mar 06, 2014 12:51:13 IST

Director Soumik Sen managed a coup when the debutant director got two of Bollywood's favourite leading ladies, Madhuri Dixit and Juhi Chawla — once considered arch rivals — to work on his film, Gulaab Gang. It should have been the dream debut for Sen, with Gulaab Gang generating a fair amount of interest with its trailer and music. However, at the last moment, Sen and Gulaab Gang have been given a reality check. Actually, a reality law suit. As far as activist Sampat Pal is concerned, Gulaab Gang is her story and Sen has no business making a film out of it without paying her and getting her permission.

Pal has accused Sen of basing Gulaab Gang on her life. In interviews, Sen has described Gulaab Gang as a regular "dhamakedaar, masala" film that stands apart from its Bollywood cousins because the hero and the villain are both women. However, Pal claims Dixit's character in the film, Rajjo, is her. She also claims Sen's film contains defamatory content. To know more about Pal's Gulabi Gang, see this review of a documentary made on the organisation by Nishtha Jain.

 Gulaab Gang: Why Madhuri beating a man wont damage Sampat Pals reputation

Madhuri Dixit in Gulaab Gang. Courtesy: Facebook

At a basic, visual level, there's an unmistakable resemblance both in the name as well as the look of the organisation that Pal started and the subject of Sen's film. Pal isn't mollified by the subtle difference between "gulaab" and "gulabi", and her suit states that "Gulabi Gang acts as a trademark, trade name and a trade dress uniquely depicting the social message that they seek to disseminate and propagate." She has also said that Sen's film damages her reputation and has demanded financial compensation for this damage.

In an earlier interview, Pal had said, "Now a film has been made called Gulaab Gang. She is Madhuri Dixit, and has made a film on the sly. They haven’t taken permission from me. If they release the film, we will sue them. I will stop the film no matter what. Without my permission, they can’t release the film."

Gulaabi Gang's producers have maintained that Pal's complaints have no basis and that she is seeking to derail the film to score some publicity for herself. Sen claims he wrote the character of Rajjo as a Godfather-esque character and cited Smita Patil in Mirch Masala as his inspiration, rather than Pal. "Sampat Pal’s life is made as a documentary. Her basic struggle was against an alcoholic husband. My film doesn’t deal with that. Mine is a political drama, which deals with two people - one good and the other evil," he said in an interview,

Sen's film is set in a village where Rajjo, a woman who becomes the leader of the Gulaabi Gang, goes head to head with first the men, and then an evil politician, Sumitra Devi (played by Juhi Chawla), who envies the influence Rajjo has because of her activism. Sen has repeatedly said that that Dixit is very much the hero of the film, while Chawla's character is an unapologetic villain. With Dixit and her fellow gang members wearing pink saris and wielding lathi in the film, Pal's claim that Sen's Gulaab Gang is actually a depiction of her organisation and life doesn't seem baseless. The uniform is exactly the same as is the weapon. Also, Sen's film quite obviously tries to piggyback on Pal's Gulabi Gang with its title.

However, Pal's claim that Rajjo and Gulaab Gang would damage her reputation is more mystifying, particularly since she hasn't seen the film. By Pal's own admission, she was not consulted during the filming or scripting process, so she wouldn't be privy to the film's plot. Also, Sen has repeatedly said that Rajjo is the hero of the film. With her dramatic dialogues and ability to slap a man twice her size so hard that he falls to the ground whimpering, Rajjo in Gulaab Gang's trailer comes across as Chulbul Pandey's first cousin. However, "reputation once lost is lost forever and can not come back and even can't be compensated with monetary terms," said the Delhi High Court. (Incidentally, since Pal has demanded financial compensation for the damage to her reputation, her point of view is clearly different from that of the court.)

The court found merit in Pal's claim that the film's trailer would be damaging to her on the basis of Gulaabi Gang's promotional material. It agreed that the film's trailer depicted the character based on Pal in "negative light". Yet Dixit does nothing in the trailer that her male counterparts don't do in films like Boss, Singham and the Dabanng series. If anything, their stunts are far more violent. However, for some reason, executing the moves that make heroes heroic appears to have had a very different effect for Dixit and her Rajjo.

Gulaab Gang's producers moved a larger bench of Delhi High Court against the order staying release of the movie and the bench vacated the restraint order, clearing the film for its scheduled March 7th release. The film will run a disclaimer stating clearly that the film is not based on the life of Sampat Pal and her work.

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Updated Date: Mar 07, 2014 02:17:29 IST